Kansas and the Quarterback Position

With just under 11 minutes to play in the 4th quarter Kansas fans found a new reason to hope. Michael Cummings had resurrected a moribund offense for the Jayhawk’s first score of the day and first touchdown in nearly six quarters of Big XII play. Kansas would go on to put 14 points on the board in the 4th, though one drive was pretty much all James Sims. A late roughing the kicker penalty prevented the story from having the Reesing against CU like ending that everyone who stuck out the rain and storms was hoping for.

With a reasonably strong performance many KU fans believe they have seen the new quarterback savior for the Jayhawks and frankly there can be little debate that the more mobile Cummings gives them a better chance to win than the hobbled Crist. For Crist to be successful in this offense he needed to pass the ball with great efficiency and that has not happened. For an undermanned KU team that needs to rely on its running game playing 10 on 11 is not a formula for success. KU on offense will either need to complete passes at a high rate or a running quarterback will be a must. Simply outmanning other Big XII foes on the line and playing a ball control passing game is not likely to get it done. Making this switch going forward makes all the sense in the world.

But looking back on KU’s recent football history it would be best to keep fan expectations in check. KU has had an unusually hard time settling on starting quarterbacks for the past decade. Be it performance or injury a huge amount of the Jayhawk’s woes on the gridiron can be traced to instability at the most important position on the field. Looking back on the past 10 seasons one can see the mountain KU has been attempting to overcome in that regard.


Bill Whittemore would manage to string together enough healthy starts that KU managed its first bowl game in a number of years in 2003. Through the 2002 and 2003 seasons, while he did miss games due to injury, he was first QB in years to have a clear grip on the starting job when he was healthy. From the second game of 2002 if Bill was healthy, he was playing every snap. The 2002 team was just flat awful across the board so nothing he would do could really change that outcome.


Four different QB’s would see significant playing during the 2004 season (Barman, Luke, Swanson and Nielson). Frankly keeping track of who was healthy and who was not was simply not worth it. Kansas would have a stretch where it lost 3 quarterbacks to injury in 3 games. The year would end on a positive as the starter of the future, Brian Luke, would lead KU to a road victory over Missouri.


Luke would embody the statement “prior performance is not indicative of future returns” and as we get to 2005 we enter the Lukeman era of KU football. Brian Luke and Adam Barmann would swap the starting QB job back and forth for the first half of this season before the job was finally seized (or one could say forfeited based on the play of the guys in front of him) to Jason Swanson who would salvage the season and get a very deserving KU defense to a bowl game. The nadir of the whole season occurred when Mangino, apparently fed up with both halves of the Lukeman duo, simply decided to stop switching QB’s and KU responded by putting up 97 yards of total offense with 3 interceptions against OU at Arrowhead stadium in a game where the defense played well enough to deserve a win.


Kerry Meier would start this year under center and actually played reasonably well until he was injured (and inexplicably left in the game to make a few crushing mistakes) at Toledo. Adam Barmann would give things a go and actually put up a decent stretch of performances for KU even though there was little winning in that stretch and the coaching staff returned to Meier as soon as he was healthy. Meier lasted roughly a game and a half before injuries again drove him from the field. Barmann would return for the rest of the Baylor game and would start at Colorado, throwing 3 picks and no TD’s in the process before being benched for Reesing who led the above discussed comeback. Meier would return from injury again to lead KU in its last 3 games of the season and KU would have a true quarterback battle of reasonably qualified players during the offseason.


Todd Reesing would play essentially every meaningful snap for this three year stretch at KU. Not surprisingly, despite the disaster ending to this era, KU would play the best football it had in decades during this period of QB stability. Todd stayed healthy. Todd performed. And because of that the team won. What is more stunning than anything is just how much of an exception to the rule for KU football this three year stretch seems to be.


Kale Pick would start the season at QB for KU after winning a closely watched battle in the spring and fall with Webb. He would last exactly one game as starter, losing his job after KU lost a 6-3 thriller to North Dakota State. The following week Webb would be at the helm for what proved to be the high point of the Turner Gill era as KU defeated Georgia Tech. The collective battering over the next 5 games would send Webb to the sidelines while Quinn Mecham gave it a go. During this period KU would stage its inexplicable rally to beat Colorado (losing to Turner Gill rightly got Dan Hawkins fired) and Mecham would see only 3 passes hit the ground (23 for 28 with 2 INT’s). Needless to say this was followed up by a 3 for 13 performance against Nebraska that netted all of 3 points on the day and Mecham returned to the bench for Webb. KU would end the year having started three different quarterbacks and averaging 9 points a game against Big XII opponents not name Colorado.


Jordan Webb would, against all odds, play in all 12 games that year and given the circumstance (inept coaching, no defensive help, criminally bad coaching) he did not perform all that poorly. Looking at it honestly about the best thing you can say about Webb is that he survived the season. Whatever his physical shortcomings the guy was tough and reliable. He had the mental toughness to keep getting up and taking his beatings when 90% of the time it was obvious it would not matter. That was not always the case for KU.

KU’s history at QB is all the more remarkable when you look at what has been accomplished at nearby schools. Kansas State has had, even under Prince, pretty remarkable stability at the position. Missouri until this year has had amazing longevity and consistency at that spot. Schools like Texas Tech and Oklahoma State always seemed to have a guy. When they don’t you have a major story and it seems like a deviation from the norm. For KU having stable QB play has been a rare luxury. The above examples could have easily extended back through all five years of the Terry Allen era.

When KU has found stability at the QB position (2003, 2007-09) they have been to three bowl games out of four years, including an Orange Bowl. In the other six years KU has only managed one bowl game and to do that an overtime win against Iowa State in the last game of the season was necessary. Whatever Cummings brings to the table the thing KU needs more than anything is stability and someone it can reliably build around. Right now Cummings is the logical alternative simply because Crist has not gotten the job done but before the year is out it would bode well for KU’s future if he makes an affirmative claim of his own on the quarterback position through his performance on the field.

It is unclear who will start at OU. Starting a freshman on the road at a surging OU team has plenty of risk. For now Cummings remains the alternative option until given the job full time. KU has had plenty of alternatives at the QB position throughout the years. What it has lacked is answers. Jayhawk fans are hoping they find an answer for the future in the last six games of this season.

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